Hunting and animal–human history

Authored by: Philip Howell

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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The antiquity and ubiquity of hunting is everywhere acknowledged. If killing animals is our predominant mode of engagement with nonhuman others, hunting is surely our oldest and most enduring relationship, ‘the dominant occupation of ancestral people for the greater part of their existence on earth’. 1 Those who detest hunting and see it as exemplary of human exploitation of other animals, as an atavistic pursuit with no place in the modern world, will cavil at the idea of a relationship between hunter and prey, and will very likely miss or play down its enduring historical significance as a result. Those on the other hand who hold hunting to embody the highest and most honourable rapport with nonhuman animals and the natural world, and who see hunting as authorised by nature as much as legitimated by tradition, run the risk of portraying the hunt as so ancient and universal a practice that it seems to stand outside human history altogether. For the historian neither standpoint is of any help, but it is worth noting these extremes and pointing out right from the start that any history of hunting is going to be contentious. As the zooarchaeologist Naomi Sykes notes, our attitude to wild animals, and their deaths by human hands, says a lot about us, about our respective cultures and convictions. 2 The history of hunting speaks to who we were, but also to who ‘we’ believe we are.

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